When the first Mario + Rabbids game came out a few years ago, it was initially met with skepticism. Whether it came from the spinoff game looking like a gimmick or due to Ubisoft combining the beloved Mario franchise with silly Rabbids from the Rayman franchise, all that worry disappeared when it came out. Overall, the game was a surprising success, gaining numerous positive reviews, and with good reason. Apart from the fun, XCOM-inspired tactical battle system, what personally drew me in the most was how challenging the game was. It goes without saying that it really leaned in on its quirkiness, making the game more interesting and gaining fans along the way.
Riding on that positive wave, the release of the sequel Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope last year was obviously more optimistic. While most games do falter a bit by the time they get a sequel, Ubisoft was able to fix certain things from the previous game to make this a better one. Similar to its predecessor, the game is available only on Nintendo Switch.
From kingdoms to worlds
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope picks up from where Kingdom Battle left off. The Mushroom Kingdom is in peace and its only problem is Rabbid Mario missing his trousers. That’s until an intergalactic manta ray crashes in. After defeating it, the group finds out that a new enemy called Cursa has sprouted out and wants to take control of the power of the Sparks. To do that, Cursa is spreading black ooze, or Darkmess, across the galaxy.
The team decides to go out, find Rosalina, and defeat Cursa. But first, they must collect Purified Darkmess Crystals to travel to different worlds using their spaceship. Aside from Beep-0, a new AI supporting the team called JEANIE is introduced who acts as a commentator as players journey around the galaxy of Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope.
Similar to the previous game, there are a lot of things to discover in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope’s worlds. Each map will seem bigger than the last, with different kinds of puzzles to solve and side quests to complete. There are also special enemies that, if defeated, will give you a special power-up that allows you to add abilities to sparks. We’ll get to that a bit later.
Sparks of improvement
Out the gate, what differentiates Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope from its predecessor is the way characters can be moved. The previous game had players moving each character within a grid. This time around, characters can move freely within a given space. It might not seem like much, but sometimes, all it takes is just a step toward the edge of a character’s boundary to get a higher hit rate on a target. Each character can have a bigger space, depending on how you’d upgrade them as you move along the game. Some can even expand their space if they slide through an enemy and, of course, can cover more ground with the use of a team jump.
Another change that fans will notice is the roster of playable characters. Mario, Luigi, Peach, and their Rabbid counterparts are immediately there. Unfortunately, Yoshi is not part of the Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope team, unlike the previous game. In exchange, players get a new set of characters on board – Edge, the classic Mario villain Bowser, and Rabbid Rosalina. Apart from their unique personalities, each character has its own abilities that distinguish them from the rest. Similar to the previous game, players can pick out different characters depending on the situation, and this time, Mario can get switched out too.
As suggested in the title, one more important change in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is the use of Sparks or at least a Rabbid mutation of it. Each character can have a max of two sparks at once. Each Spark has a unique ability that can either be support-, defense-, or attack-based. These sparks also can be leveled up to improve their innate abilities. Leveling up your sparks is important, especially when you go up against enemies with particular resistances and weaknesses. What’s more, you can also upgrade how a character utilizes a spark (like having a chance for sparks to avoid the cooldown after activation). This is where defeating special enemies come into play.
As mentioned earlier, the previous game was surprisingly challenging, with the most notable for me being the turn limit. I recall spending multiple tries in one fight just to clear a fight within the limit set. In Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, battles are more fun. This is thanks to improvements such as real-time movement and the introduction of sparks. However, they also took away the turn limit (save for a few battles), making battles a bit too easy. Looking back, I feel that the time it took me to 100% this game in one playthrough is just the same time as simply rolling credits on the previous game. But hey, that’s just me. After all, I did spend 60 hours playing through it.
Despite that personal gripe, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope also has an unnecessarily long loading screen. It feels punishing enough to make me not go into the menu screen sometimes. You can probably think of it as a way to maximize your moves instead of going back and forth on the menu or map. It won’t change the fact that it is an annoying thing to deal with.
All that being said, I still think that Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope came and delivered. This sequel still has the charm that its predecessor had and improved on it by providing lore for each world you visit. There’s no such thing as a main roster of characters, and with the Sparks, each play can be different depending on what tactic you want to try or go for. You can capitalize on using Beep-0 and survey the battlefield to change up your characters and sparks as necessary. The puzzles and battles aren’t as challenging, it’s not as punishing when you don’t succeed.
All in all, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is a sequel that doubles down on the good parts of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and adds to it. If you haven’t played the previous game but want to jump into this, it’s available for $59.99.
YouTube: Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope – Cinematic Launch Trailer – Nintendo Switch
Photo credit: The images used are owned by Ubisoft / Nintendo and have been provided for press usage.